Sunday February 6th, 2011
Tait McKenzie Gym, Toronto
Queen’s Gaels vs. York Lions
The Men’s OUA season is winding down, with only a couple games left for each team in the regular season. Only seven teams make the Men’s playoffs, and there is a large build-up of teams fighting for the final spot. The York Lions are one of those teams. Laurier sits in the last playoff spot, but Ryerson and Toronto both are between the Lions and that seventh place. On Sunday, they came up against one of the OUA’s strongest teams in the Queen’s Gaels. If they wanted to prove themselves, this was one of their final opportunities.
The game started quickly, as Queen’s enforced their blocking game early. Gaels’ 13 Michael Amoroso, while solidifying the middle block, also came through with a powerful quick early on. York responded with their own middle, 2 Felipe Humana-Paredes, hitting a quick right back.
Queen’s 15 Niko Rukavina got in on the blocking action as well. In response, York’s 4 Greg Ivan came through with two consecutive blocks to give York a slight advantage. Queen’s Amoroso had seen enough, and he responded with a huge quick for a kill, followed with some words for the opponents through the net. I don’t know what he said, but I’m sure it was something to the extent of “good try, York.” Maybe it was a bit more passionate, I’m not sure. York didn’t seem too indimidated, however, as 5 Nikola Sandic got a kill of his own soon after. The first set stayed incredibly close throughout, as every attack had a response from the other side. When Queen’s would move ahead slightly, York would respond with an ace. The game was tied at 10s, then at 15s, then at 17s.
At one point, Queen’s 8 Matthew Taylor went so far for a dig that he slid into the York coach on the other side of the net. Incredibly, the ball stayed alive and Amoroso ended the point on another emphatic quick. Then Taylor pulled off another incredibly diving dig, this time a pancake in the middle of the court. York Coach Wally Dyba immediately jumped to his feet claiming the ball had hit the court. Regardless, York won the point and jumped out to a 20-17 lead. Then a second call, claiming a Queen’s attack had caught the line and was in for a point, sent Dyba through the roof. He smacked his clipboard loudly on his leg and had some choice words for the referee, again something along the lines of “good effort, ref, but I respectfully disagree.”
The Lions were ahead still, but all the anger seemed to sap some life from the team. Queen’s put together a 6-0 run and took the lead late in the set. York attempted to get an advantage with a double substitution to get another attacker in the front court. Queen’s still pulled ahead to set point at 24-23. At that point, Queen’s 5 Joren Zeeman whiffed entirely on his attack, forcing extra points. However, his confidence wasn’t rattled in the slightest. They set him again, and he was rejected hard but the ball went ever so slightly out of bounds. After whiffing, then being blocked, Queen’s still had enough confidence to feed Zeeman. This time, he put the kill away showing his ability to perform in the clutch. Those two consecutive points gave Queen’s the first set 26-24.
Though York lost the first set, they proved they could hang with Queen’s. With their season in the balance, they had to perform now or never. The second set began with Lions’ Sandic hitting two balls long out. However, the referee called both as touches by the Queen’s block. The calls were controversial, but they stood. Queen’s contributed a missed serve, and York looked to have life.
That’s when York’s first-year player 1 Ray Szeto became the focus. First he hit the ball even further out than Sandic, but the referee’s gave a third controversial touch call to give York the point. After losing serve, Szeto then shanked a serve receive, followed by putting a free ball out, followed by allowing a serve to drop for an ace, followed by a flubbed hit. As an exclamation, he was blocked hard on the very next point. After the sequence, Queen’s led 10-5. Considering the three poor calls by the referee, and the Queen’s missed serve, this game could have been 14-1. Szeto is an incredibly skilled young man, but in his first year he has shown a streak of inconsistency.
Queen’s seemed to lose their focus somewhat. They contributed another two missed serves in the set and allowed York a chance to get back into it. However, the York defence was rattled after the poor beginning. Their errors began to show on serve receive, forcing setter 11 Paul Jakubiak into errors while he tried to salvage overpasses. York was at one point as tight as 11-8, but eventually slipped to 24-16. Even with errors throughout, Queen’s managed to win the second set 25-17 on a calm quick from Amoroso.
In the third set, York opted to remove Szeto from the lineup. Instead, Karim Khalil moved back to his traditional spot at power, and 13 Sam Song entered the game playing offside. The new lineup made the third set look more like the first, rather than the one-sided effort that had just occurred. Humana-Paredes kept the Lions energy high with some solid quicks early. A missed serve from Queen’s pushed the Lions to an early lead. Queen’s was giving up serves and also gave a couple overpasses on serve receive, but they somehow managed to stay close with solid team blocking. At one point, York’s Greg Ivan literally ran into his setter, preventing him from getting to the ball. It turned into a set of errors.
Queen’s pulled ahead slightly, but York’s Humana-Paredes single-handedly provided the York attack with another couple of quicks in the middle of the set, tying the game at 12-12. Queen’s responded with a strong kill from Rukavina, who finished leading the Gaels with 16 points. Queen’s Zeeman continued his inconsistency. He managed some great kills from backcourt, but would make mistakes on easy hits. That kept the score tight.
As the set moved into the final stretch, the unfamiliar line up began to hurt York. First, Greg Ivan missed his block entirely. In fact, Ivan was not himself all day. York is used to “Crazy” Greg being a huge presence in the middle, but his name was rarely heard over the announcer’s PA. Next, Sam Song peeled away when he should have blocked, giving Queen’s a free kill. They obliged. In the end, consistency was the game-breaker. Queen’s pushed from a tie game at 15-15, to a 10-5 run to win the third set 25-20.
With the win, Queen’s manages to stay close to Western and McMaster at the very top of the standings. York’s playoff hopes are all but dashed with the loss.
Queen’s Niko Rukavina finished with 16 points and 9 digs. Joren Zeeman had 15 points and 8 digs, but also contributed 5 errors.
York’s libero 3 Tom Podstawka provided the most consistency with 9 digs in the game. He was awarded player of the game for the Lions.